Here are some tips for tightening your Combination (hybrid) or wrap style straps and keeping the straps from creeping towards your neck, as well as for removing any slack in your straps. Here is a photo tutorial and I've added a video too.
This demonstration is of a front carry in a baby size half buckle using a demo doll. I am using a baby size adjustable half buckle with Combination straps. With a real baby of this size make sure to remember to use the drawstring at the top of the body to adjust the height down so baby isn't lost down in the carrier and baby's face is visible. There are some more tips about how to use a carrier with a small baby here.
Buckle (or tie) your carrier around your waist (you can place it apron style for a small baby as in this photo). Bring the body of the meh dai up while supporting baby with one hand. Toss the straps over your shoulders and cross them, then hold one strap between your knees to keep it in place temporarily. Make sure the straps are on your shoulders not your neck.
Pull one strap down to the floor than across (this helps to keep the straps from sitting too close to your neck) then bring to your front. Hold this strap between your knees to keep it tight. Pull the other strap down and around. The x shape made by the straps over your back should be low (which helps to keep the straps sitting correctly on your shoulders and not creeping in towards your neck).
Pull down on both straps one at a time to make sure there is no more slack, then bring around to the front. Before tying off pull along the strap strand by strap to get any slack out then hold the strap between your knees and do the same for the other strap.
Cross the straps under baby's bum and tie off in a square knot.
Flip over the edge of the shoulder strap over if desired. For additional support you can also spread the straps over baby’s bum (not pictured).
Video version - thanks to my 13 year old for helping me film my first video!
Modern meh dai's (also know as mei tais) are based on traditonal Chinese carriers. Meh dai is a popular modern spelling - but in the era I am convering mei tai or asian baby carrier (ABC), would have been the terms used.
This article covers the history of the meh dai in the western world from the early 2000's until around 2006. Meh Dai’s really took off at this time and were a popular carrier style.
Traditional Chinese Meh Dai
The traditional meh dai introduced to the western world was a simple square of fabric with four straps of equal length. Traditional Chinese baby carriers can be found in many variations as most minority groups have there own distinct style -some have only two straps for example, but these were not as well known. Traditional meh dai staps were genearally narrow and unpadded and the strap attatchment to the body was often horizontal. This is the style sold by the NMAA (Nursing Mothers Association Australia) in Australia since the 1960's. Mei Dai's were also occasionally sourced direct from China. In the US this traditional style was imported and sold on peppermint.com from the early 2000's one the first websites selling several styles of baby carrier.
"The Mei Tai ("may tie") is a traditional Chinese baby carrier that ties on. Young babies are carried on the front. Older babies are carried on the back. The Mei Tai seems to work best until 20 lbs (Comfort-wise, that is. It is plenty safe for heavier weights.) Straps each measure 3.75 wide and 39" long. The bottom straps are tied around the waist, then the top straps are brought over the shoulders and tied to the waist strap. The design is flexible enough that one can come up with various ways to tie it on."
Before the internet babywearing information would only have been available (rarely) in magazines, and through parenting groups like Le Leche Leauge (US) or The Nursing Mothers Association (Australia) or if you were lucky enough to have a friend or relative who knew how to use one and was willing to show you. In the early 2000's the growing popularity of the internet allowed information to be shared much more quickly and easily. This is a large part of the reason that meh dai's (and babywearing in general) become much more popular. The Babywearer the first popular internet forum devoted to babywearing launched in October 2003 and many other parenting forums had a section devoted to babywearing too. From the few meh dai's available to parents (almost unchanged from the tradional design) there was soon an explosion of online shops that were designing, sewing and selling meh dais with each vendor adding on their own twist.
These modern carriers had a wide variety of new features such as head supports, sleeping hoods, pockets, long padded or wrap style straps, mesh panels for hot weather, and cinchable bodies for easier use with different aged babies. Of course many of these features were really reinventions as elements of these are also found on some traditional asian style baby carriers. For more information about traditional meh dai's see this article.
Early US Made Meh dai's
The Packababy and The Baby Back Tie
Early small scale brands stayed fairly close to the traditional design with a few small differences. The Baby Back Tie and Packababy were both basic designs. Neither had any padding (though Packababy eventually made shoulder pads that would slide on)
The website for the Baby Back-Tie was launced in December 2002 and the Packababy's in July 2003. The Kozy carrier arrived later in 2003. The Packababy had a large body and the Baby Back Tie (BBT) a smaller one. The Packababy and Baby Back Tie were made with heavier fabrics and longer straps (a departure from the lightweight fabrics and short straps traditional mei tai’s tended to have) but they still had narrow straps.
Packababy (pictured to the right) had a unusal construction with wide cotton webbing straps crossed through the body and sewn to the outside. These carriers were made from sateen canvas with a layer of cotton on the main side. There's an interesting description of how the packababy was sewn here - https://web.archive.org/web/20040806201034/http://www.packababy.com/makingof.html
The Baby Back-Tie had four long straps meant to be tied traditionaly (straps tied to form one single knot in the front) but it was also pictured on the Baby Back-Tie website as tied in the newer style with back pack style tied shoulder straps and the waist strap tied around the waist
Baby Back Tie (Packababy pictured above)
In the US the first really popular meh dai was the Kozy, designed by Kelley Mason in late 2002, after a picture she saw on the Internet and she also took some inspiration from the Packababy and Baby Back Tie.
"The Kozy is a modern version of the Asian Mei Tai, and it was inspired by the carriers that proceeded it. I have added things to it to add in stabiIity and comfort but have been very cautious to keep the design true to the style...simple, compact, and comfy...I don't claim to have "invented" this carrier (hey, I am creative, not brilliant ;-) These types of Asian style carriers have been around for a long time. I simply added my own ideas to the more modern versions out there today with the hopes that perhaps I could offer you something a bit "different" that might not be offered in other "asian style" carriers.
The body of the Kozy was larger and taller than it's traditional counterparts, and the shoulder straps wider, longer, and padded (and with a pocket on the end). The waist straps were unpadded and angled. There was a curved top useful as a headrest, but no hood. The shoulder straps (like many early US mei tai’s) were not quite as long as those found on many meh dai’s today and were were designed to tied off under baby’s bum or across the back. For many years many of the mei tai’s made in the US after the Kozy came out were influenced by this design.
The Kozy was the first really sought after meh dai with a long waiting list at first and reselling quickly when listed on FSOT (For Sale or Trade) boards in the forums. Unlike the other more basic mei tai's which came before it was available with designer prints and luxurious optional extras (Bling Kozies) with silk panels, panels with beads and embroidery, and velveteen straps. There is at least one instance of a panel Kozy selling for $400 USD, way above the original retail price of $125 USD.
Design and Construcion
By the mid 2000's there were numerous small companies making and selling meh dai's (and often also ofering modern takes on other traditonal carriers too like podaegi's, hmongs, and onbuhimo).
The Kozy carrier was followed by popular brands like Ellaroo (2004) Freehand (2004), Sachi , Babyhawk, Mei Tai Baby, Napsack, Angelpack, and Kolamo (later bought by Ellaroo). CuddleN Carry, Equanimity Baby Mei Tai, Freehand (2004), Cat Bird Baby (2005). There were also many small brands made by work at home mums which tended to come and go quite quickly although there are a small number which evoled into larger well know brands.
These early brands added their own stamp to the traditional Chinese meh dai design. CuddleN Carry added a hood and wider straps, Sachi added leg padding. Babyhawk added a stiff and tall padded headrest and Happy Cruiser came up with a contoured body. Mei Tai Baby later added an adjustable base for their carrier with a drawstring and later with snaps (in 2005) and Catbird baby was working on a different adjustable system around the same time. These are all features still commonly found in many meh dai's today.
Mei Tai Baby
Body Shape and Construction
Traditonal meh dai's are generally quite square and early western meh dai's followed this pattern but soon evolved a variety of body shapes. Freehand for example had an unusual design with a padded rail across the top straight egde of the body and triangles attached to the bottom of the body for more leg support. Some carriers had a large body shape (like the Kozy) and were marketed for all ages but they could be tricky to use for a small baby without using some tweaks such as 'frogging' (tucking up) babies legs inside the carrier. (Carrying small babies legs in was much more common than it is today). Some companies soon evolved a narrower and sometimes shorter body to better accomodate smaller babies. Early Meh Dai's came in one size only at first but then some companies started to offer different sizes for different stages (usually baby and toddler sizes). Contoured (hourglass shaped) bodies were a popular shape - when the body is rolled to shorten the meh dai the body becomes narrower as well which allowed the carrier to be used across a wider age range.
Most early meh dai's were made from cotton canvas and decorated with a cotton print panel on the body but luxurious options were also available, like fancy panels made of silk, brocade, and even wool blends, and sometimes including embroidery. Eden (founded in 2005), made their carrier entirely from gorgeous cotton velveteen. Kolamo also offered 100% duponi silk carriers among their selection.
Ball Baby often had an all over pattern as the panel was usually made out of the same heavyweight fabric as the straps (usually home dec fabric) which was unique at the time when solid coloured straps were the norm.
The Zippy made be Mei Tai Baby offered interchangeable panels which zipped in. The body of this carrier was width adjustble too through tabs that snapped together at the base of the carrier.
You can see a great comparison of meh dai body shapes here -
Panelled designs were very popular where the print on the body was surrounded by a fabric 'frame'. This style is not often seen today.
Customs were one of the hallmarks of the early meh dai brands since many of them were made individually rather than mass produced. Mei Tai Baby and Baby Hawk had fun website features where you could match prints to different straps colours and see what your carrier would look like
Babyhawk with a panelled print and headrest
Hood and Headrests
Hoods didn't become popular until a little later so early meh dai's simply had differerent styles of headrests or just a slightly rounded or simply a straight top edge, sometimes with a bit of padding. The Kolamo's headrest was almost a hood - it was not a seperate piece but it could be folded down - (the Kolamo was later bought and produced by Ellaroo)
"I just didn't feel the previous rounded top was enough support for this head and finally I have found the answer to this! I have placed a unique fabric into the flat that provides structure, yet is still so soft! This special feature is not offered anywhere else and is a unique speciality of Kolamo"
Since most meh dai's didn't come with hoods one one mum came up with a universal hood desing that could slide on to any carrier (Monkey Pockets) but most people just got used to wearing without one.
Some more in depth geekery of the popular mei tai's available throughout the 2000's can be found here-
This thread has some info on even more brands - http://www.thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/what-is-your-favorite-mt-at-the-moment.83002/ (update links)
Strap Length and Tying Methods
Strap lengths changed over time. Traditional meh dai's generally were sewn with all four straps of the same length and straps were much shorter than the standard strap length seen today (as they were tied on with the twist and tie method rather than knots). You can see a demonstration of how traditional meh dai's are tied here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeAxzyZ7gL0
The first modern meh dai made with shoulder straps longer than the waist straps was the Packababy. The designer of the Packababy was inspired by the way woven baby wraps are tied and realized if all four straps were not all tied together the waist straps could be tied around the waist and then the shoulder straps tied separately- rucksack style or crossed over the chest and then knotted over then under baby’s legs or knotted behind babies' back. Video of an example here (with a Kozy meh dai) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3R9OclxvZOY
Strap lengths got longer and longer. At first meh dai's came with 152cm/60" straps and then a few makers started offering 179cm/70" straps and the standard length was soon in the 175-183cm/69-72" range. This length was the standard for quite a while until the Scandi meh dai style come along and meh dai shoulder strap length increased again (which better accomodated most sizes and a variety of tie off's). Most meh dai's made today now come with a standard of around 2m/80" long (with some companies offering even longer custom lengths).
When meh dai's had short straps as standard the straps were first crossed over the wearers back and then tied off in the middle of baby's back or just under the bum. As straps got longer they were brought back around the wearer's back to be tied off (or back to the front again if the straps were long enough) and often twisted or crossed again over baby's back first. Nowadays tying off or twisting over baby's mid back is not often used as it's no longer recommended (tying lower across baby's bum/nappy is preferred instead).
The first meh dai's tied 'lexi twist' appeared around this time. In a Lexie twists the shoulder straps were twisted together across babies' bum and back - this added some extra support and was a handy was to use up extra length.
Lexie twist in an Ellaroo
The idea of the Lexie Twist was borrowed from a wrapping variation (for woven baby wraps) and was well know by 2005.
Longer straps offered more possiblilities for tying off in a back carry too. These variations were often inspired by woven wrap finishs. The idea of the Tibetan tie appeared in the mid 2000's (borrowed from a traditional tying method adapted by woven wrap users)
To tie Tibetan the shoulder staps are tied back pack style and then the tails of the shoulder straps brought though. The straps are then tied together to finish or left to hang loose. You can see lots of strap tying variations here - http://beltwaybabywearers.blogspot.com/2011/09/mei-tai-tying-tips.html
Wrap Straps and Padded Waists
Wrap stap and wide strapped meh dai's appeared quite a while before the idea of wrap conversion carriers did. By the mid 2000's there were quite a few makers offering these styles. Popular wide strapped meh dai's available in 2006 include Napsack, Ball Baby, Happy Crusider, Cuddle N Carry, Octi Mei Tai, Maya Tie. Some lesser known brands were Honeybunch, Loveseat and Mei Tai Carrier
http://thebabywearer.com/forum/threads/wrap-like-straps-on-mt.60727/ and also this thread -
Before wide wrap like straps become available most meh dai's had padded straps around 4 inches/10cm wide or so. Then there were a handful of wide strap styles available which had an in between width of around 6-8 inches/15cm-20cm wide and were often double layered (e.g Ball Baby Overall, Cuddle N Carry). And there was also Napsack which had 'oar-shaped' straps, which was wider across the shoulder but narrower where it attached to the body.
The idea of an unpadded very wide unpadded single layer shoulder strap seems to have have been invented by the writer of a popular DIY pattern, called the Frankenkozy. The carrier was inspired by the Kozy carrier (hence the name) but with the addition of modified straps which mimicked the feel of a wraparound baby carrier.
One of the earliest commercially made wrap strap mei tai's was the Maya Tie which was based on the Frankenkozy (with the pattern owner's blessing). It had very wide 12"/30cm wrap like, unpadded shoulders, pleated where they met the body. The Octi Mei tai was another early example (also based on the Frankenkozy) with a slightly narrower width 8-11 inches/20-28cm and a different method of pleating where the straps met the body.
Octi Mei Tai
Some meh dai's had angled waist straps (Kozy, Sachi) and some straight (Ellaroo, Sachi, Babyhawk, Freehand). The angled straps can give a slightly better seat when wearing apron style. Today almost all meh dai's have a straight waist strap probably because it's easier to roll to reduce the height for smaller babies and because most waists are padded.
Almost all early meh dai's were designed to be worn apron style (where the carrier is tied on like an apron before putting baby in, which allows baby's bum sit below the waistband when worn). Waists were unpadded with the exception of the Kolamo, one of the first carriers to add a (lightly) padded waist strap. Meh dai's with structured or firmly padded waists designed to be worn non apron style, where baby's bum sits above the waistband to better transfer weight to the wearers hips, started to become more popular from around the mid 2000's (this waist style was commonly seen on the popular scandi style meh dai's) and they slowly overtook the unpadded waist mei tai's which are now fairly uncommon today.
Half buckles (meh dai's with a buckle waist) also appeared in the mid 2000's. The Mei Favorite made by Babies Beyond Borders seems to be one of the first commercially available. This carrier has a structured waist and 15cm/6" wide lightly padded shoulder straps.
Mei Favorite Half Buckle (Source: Pinterest)
The interest in meh dai's didn't just occur in the United States. Other countries soon had cottage industries of their own. It's harder to find the timeline for these small brands (as there isn't a much information about them that is easily accessible). Meh dai's started to become popular in other European countries in this period especially Scandinavia If you have any information about early mei tai's outside the United States. I would love to know, please let me know in the comment section below. Here is a list of some early brands I have come across - Nuzzli (UK), Sakura (Finland 2003), Cwitshi (Wales 2004), Bear Hug Baby (Australia 2006?) and Mother's Helper Piggie Pack (Canada 2004)
Colibri (a meh dai produced in Norway from 2005) became hightly sought after and a harbringer of the scandi meh dai craze.
The next big chance in meh dai design were the scandi mei tai's with their sturdily padded waists, long shoulder straps, hoods, luxury fabrics and highly sought after status. In the forums I start to find mentions of Scandi Style mei tai's from around late 2006 and they steadily increased in popularity.
There is gradually more chatter about full buckle carriers/soft structured carriers from around this time too as the choices and customization options for that style increased (before then the chatter is almost exclusively about meh dai's, onbuhimos and podaegis)
The history of Scandi meh dai's and the early history of wrap conversion carriers will be covered in another post. If you have any memories or photos of these send me a message, I would love to hear from you!
Flared Straps (padded to wrap)
This variation is the result of combining both the regular padded strap and the wrap strap. These start with a padded section at the top of the strap and then transition to a flat wrap strap half the width of the wrap (or to about 33cm if the strap is made from fabric other than a wrap). The wrap part of the strap can be worn bunched or spread out. This strap style is my most popular style.
Pro: You don't have to worry about pressure points if you don't get them spread just right. Straps don't spread over your shoulders as far compared to wrap straps in a back carry which some people prefer. You can spread the straps up over the body of the carrier for more support but just tying them unspread like regular meh dai straps works great too. You can use the spread out strap to widen the base of the carrier.
Con: Petite wearers (under size 10 (Australian sizing) may need petite padding especially if you like to wear your baby in a high back carry as this will give more space for the wrap part of the strap to spread out.
Unpadded wrap straps
Two styles of wrap strap are available - pleated and gathered. The gathered style spreads a little more widely but they feel similar to wear.
Pro: Some people love the wrap like feel of unpadded wrap straps. The straps distribute the weight of baby well and you can spread the shoulder straps as much or as little as you like. You can tailor the perfect fit by tightening the straps in just the right places so it feels comfortable for you. Works wonderfully for front carries.
Con: May not be as comfortable as padded straps for back carriers (although this is personal preference). as these straps work best by cupping the shoulder. Wrap straps sometimes need careful spreading so the strap is spread out comfortably over your shoulder so may take longer a little longer to put on. May sometimes feel restrictive if you need a lot of arm movement.
Unpadded wrap straps sewn in with a box pleat
These straps are IIcm wide the entire width and lenght of the strap with padding over your shoulder. Easy to use, nothing to spread so quick to put on and less bulky so easy to carry around in your bag. Padded straps are slightly less versatile as there is no wrap part of the strap to spread out for extra support if you need it but you can tie a lexie twist over baby's bum or a tie chestbelt (i.e tibetan style) for some extra support if you need it and that works well. Without wrap straps you can't widen the base once the width has started to be outgrown (but you can still use the straps to pull your toddler knees up to a more ergonomic position). If you don't often spread your straps this a comfortable and compact option.
A combination strap is a hybrid between a wrap strap and a padded strap at your shoulder (best of both worlds!) It gives extra width to spread over your shoulder but you can leave it unspread (useful for back carries).
The flap which pulls out over your shoulder can be over or underneath the straps. The fold over is the default but but it can be useful to have the strap sewn the opposite way (to pull out from underneath the strap) for a reversible carrier as you will see more of the reverse colour on the reverse side of the strap. (If you would like the straps to be sewn the opposite way to usual please let me know).
Strap flap folds over the strap (default).
Reversible carrier (wrap strap pulls out from underneath)
Flap folding out from underneath the strap.
Strap Lengths: Standard strap length is 2m which is long enough to lexi twist and tibetan tie for most people but may be too long for a petite wearer who may prefer the shorter length(187cm). Plus-sized wearers may need up to 230-250cm of strap to have the most tying options.
Some vintage baby carriers from the past 100 years or so. These baby carriers were not as common and not always as ergonomic as the carriers in use today but there were certainly quite a variety! There were rigid structured carriers , improvised carriers, tandem carriers, hip seats, and soft structured carriers.
I came across lots of photos of carriers which look like little chairs and one which looks a little like a traditional cradleboard. Wearing baby on the back facing out seemed quite popular! Framed back packs were around too (at least from the 1960's).
Baby carrier 1945
A man feeds a piece of a doughnut an infant in a baby carrier at the Hog Farm Collective commune, , New Mexico, October 1, 1969.
Backpacks and Improvised Carriers
Some caregivers didn't even use a baby carrier just improvised with what they had - for example just popping baby in their bag or back pack.
Improvised baby carrier - 1926
Some carriers needed two people to use and some were not worn on the parent's body at all.
Baby carrier for couples - Jack Milford - 1937
Welsh Family waiting for visiting King George V 1935
Hip carriers seemed to be popular with a few brands available although they don't look particularly comfortable with their narrow shoulder straps. DIY patterns are found for these carriers too. There was at least one pattern available through a popular commercial pattern company and I found another which was available through mail order.
Cradleseat hip carrier (manufactured in London)
Christmas shopping - December 1968
Hip seat pattern 1970's
Bild-It-Yourself Club hip seat pattern.
There were also soft carriers similar to the narrow based carriers still sometimes found today and some with a more ergonomic wider seat. The Snugli was also around (the earlier versions are actually more ergonomic than later designs with their wide seat, comfortably padded shoulder straps and waist belt). The nursing mother's association (now the Australian Breastfeeding Association) were producing their Meh Tai carrier from the 1960's.
Narrow based carrier.
The Snugli was invented by an American nurse, patented in 1969. It had padded adjustable shoulder straps, a waist band and an internal infant harness and could also be used for older babies without using the harness. There are some great detailed pictures in this link here https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/599372091/vintage-soft-blue-cotton-corduroy-snugli?show_sold_out_detail=1
Soft Carrier (possibly DIY) from the Selma to Montgomery March 1965
Nursing Mother's meh tai 1960's
Do It Yourself
Sewing magazines and books also obsessionally offered DIY baby carrier patterns - some look quite comfortable like this meh dai like pattern from 1977.
Some patterns however look less so like this hip carrier. (Creative Sewing Things to Make For Children Jeanne Argent Studio Vista1979)
Do you have any vintage baby carrier photos to share. I would love to see!
Sources for images in this article can be found here - https://www.pinterest.com.au/hipababy/babywearing-history/
Some photos of my wrap scrap quilt! I made this as a picnic quilt although I tend to use it more as a throw rug. I love to look at it and see scraps of wraps that I carried my children in or scraps of brands that were popular when I was babywearing. The scraps are mostly from Natibaby, Girasol, Didymos and Oscha wraps and a few from Tula Wovens, Pollora, Pavo, Diva Milano, Firespiral, Ellevill, and Kokadi. The quilt reminds of when my children were babies and how sweet it was to hold them close.
The quilt was made from woven baby wrap scraps and denim sourced from old denim jeans - I like the colour variations from the different pairs and the wear on some of the denim squares gives character. I quilted it by stitching in the ditch so the quilting is pretty much invisible. I added a machine washable bamboo batting as life with children is still messy and I want the quilt to be used. The binding was made from a lightweight denim and was hand sewn. I lost count after a while but I think this took approximately 20 hours to make in total. Cutting out all the squares took the longest! I only worked on it now and then when I had some spare time so it took about a year to complete. This is only the second quilt I have ever made and I was really pleased with how it turned out. It had the added bonus of making a good dent in my wrap scrap pile!
Hong Kong 1940's (source:https://collections.lib.uwm.edu/digital/collection/agsphoto/id/23471/rec/76)
The traditional Meh Dai (Mei Tai)
Mei tai/Mei dai/bei dai/ are transliterations of a Chinese word 背带 meaning ‘baby carrier’ A meh dai is comprised of a square or rectangular shape with a four straps (on the top and bottom). Chinese baby carriers are commonly also found with two top straps only but the western meh dai has been adapted from the version with four straps. Meh dai’s are used with both babies and toddlers and traditionally are mainly used to back carry. In western countries they are often used on the front and occasionally even for a hip carry (although this isn’t very common). There are similar carriers which are found in other parts of the world (eg parts of Africa) but it seems likely that the western mei tai was directly adapted from the Chinese version. This is explicitly stated by The Nursing Mother's Association when discussion the origin of their Meh Tai (Meh dai)
"For the last decade we have
advocated the use of a baby sling
similar vo the type in which
Asian women have carried their
babies lor centuries. The sling is
called a "meh-tai". which I
understand is Chinese for baby
The Canberra Times Wed 29 December 1976 page 2
When this style of carrier and similar ones from asian countries like podaegis/ hmong/nyia, and onbuminos became popular in the US in the early 2000’s they were lumped into the umbrella term Asian style Baby Carrier (ABC for short) . When reviews were fist set up at The Babywearer (the most popular online babywearing forum at the time) there were only categories for "traditional carriers" and for "soft pack carriers" and no separate category for 'mei tai'. However it was soon suggested that as these carriers were inspired by traditional Chinese carriers the term mei tai should be used to better reflect the carriers origins. More recently the spelling meh dai or bei dai has become popular as it more accurately reflects the pronunciation in the Cantonese and Mandarin dialects of Chinese respectively.
Traditional Meh Dai’s
There was certainly variety in Chinese meh dais. There was variation in body shapes, hoods made of lattice work fabric strips, shoulder straps padded with plant material, headrests and even pockets! Carrier covers for cooler weather are found too Many traditional carriers are beautiful works of art, embellished with intricate embroidery with symbolic and cultural meaning (I highly recommend the book 'Bonding via Baby Carriers' – there are many wonderful Chinese baby carriers pictured).
Traditional Chinese meh dai’s were usually tied with the straps twisted at the chest and any excess tucked.
The traditional carriers used in Hong Kong had four Straps around 110cm each, tied at a knot at the chest. At the end of one or both shoulder straps the corners were folded over to the centre to form a pocket in which to carry a few coins. In the 19th and early 20th century The panel was quite large measuring up to 60cm. Gradually the overall size of the carrier became smaller during the 20th century. The carriers worn by the Cantonese and Hakka were about 25cm square. The shoulder and waist straps were a continuation of the top and bottom edges. The Hoklo and Tanka fishing people used carriers which were slightly smaller overall, longer straps were fixed diagonally to the four corners. Head supports were often attached. These were made of folded strips of cotton about Icm wide stitched at intervals to form a lattice square and attached to the top edge of the carrier to support the baby’s head. In the 1970’s it was usual to see most young children carried in these cloth carriers. Sadly By the early 2000’s the use of these traditional carriers has almost completely disappeared. Imported mass produced had mostly replaced them and most mothers tended to carry their children in front following Western fashion.
(Chinese Baby Carriers: A Hong Kong Tradition Now Gone Valery Garret Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society © 2001 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch
Hong Kong 1957 https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/177188566575051521/
Children carrying siblings Hong Kong 1956 (source https://gwulo.com/atom/22127)
Western children in Hong Kong were usually carted around in prams. The exception to this was in the early's 1940's when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese and many western families were interned in Stanley Camp. Traditional baby carriers were used by mothers and babies there.
The photo below is a sketch drawn in Stanley Camp of a traditional baby carrier in use. You can see a flat shot of the actual baby carrier pictured in this drawing in an article about a reunion of the camp inmates (the baby grew up and kept it!) Link to article https://gwulo.com/node/30240
Vintage Mei Tai (Meh Dai) - Pre Internet
Early western versions were quite close to the traditional Chinese ones. While there was quite a bit of variety in the traditional ones they generally they had thinner, unpadded, and shorter straps than the meh dai’s seen in western countries today.
Pre Internet - Early Commercially Produced Meh Dai’s
The meh dai seems to have first appeared in the west in Australia first in the 1960’s. Variations may have been around before this in other western countries but I haven’t found any other earlier commercially made examples so far.
There were very few commercially produced meh dai's or similar carriers with tied straps before the early 2000’s. The meh dai (Meh tai) sold be the nursing mothers association is the earliest example I have found. It was quite close to this traditional design with four relatively short straps designed to be tied at the chest by twisting all four straps together. The carrier was also fairly lightweight with thin straps (but the shoulder straps were padded unlike in a traditional carrier). This early version of the mei tai was designed and sold be the Australian Breastfeeding Association (then called the Nursing Monthers Association). It was sold as the Meh Tai and later a version with clip version which did up with buckles was designed.
The ABA meh tai had short straps and could be worn in the traditional way or in this variation. The lower straps were tied around the waist like an apron. Then the baby was held against your chest and the body of the sling pulled up over baby's back. The top straps went up over your shoulders, then crossed behind your back, then each should strap was tied onto the waist straps.
"In 1966, NMAA Founder Mary Paton and her family were featured in a Herald newspaper series about Melbourne families. This busy mum literally flew home from another engagement to meet with the reporter and photographer at her home. Whether by good luck or intention, Mary had her youngest child on her back in a Meh Tai and the photographer suggested she "do something" he could photograph her doing in this strange thing. Mary grabbed the vacuum cleaner and was thus captured for eternity cleaning the house wearing a smart dress and high heels - donned for her earlier engagement! The response from readers was amazing, contacting the newspaper asking where they could buy such a thing - and Mary quickly announced that NMAA made and sold them"
This photo was published by the Herald in 1967 to help publicise the Meh Tai and was used on the Meh Tai packaging and instruction sheet.
Another newspaper photo that appeared on the front of the Wagga Daily Advertiser February 1976.
Below in the Meh Tai instruction booklet from 1984.
Some more examples - produced later but still the same design.
Source: Google Images
There was also a similar style being sold by at least one US LaLeche Leaque group in the 1970’s.
'Later on, in 1975, my second child was born. By that time I was a member of LaLeche League and our little group was making a mai tai-type carrier out of soft denim with a Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy appliqued on the seat and selling them for $7. each to support our group! I so wish I had a photo or had kept it. It was so cute! And handy!
Instructions to DIY mei tai like carriers could be found in Family/ DIY/ Mother's magazines in the 60's,70's,80's, but overall information access to traditional baby carriers before the internet allowed an explosion of sharing is fairly rare.
One example can be found in this English pattern book. This design from 1979 is close the traditional in that is has 4 straps of equal length and the top straps are straight across rather than angled but it is being worn in more of a western style (straps are crossed and tied behind baby's bum rather than twisted together at the front)
I have a separate blog post about this pattern if you would like to learn more here.
The Comfey Carrier was likely another early meh dai although I couldn’t find a picture of it to confirm this. This carrier had no buckles, could be used for front and back carriers and included two long straps that the user would cross in back and tie in front. The carriers were around from at least 1989 and they were still being sold in 1997
"It's deceptively simple. It's made of washable cotton stretch velour, no buckles or anything to adjust. You just place the baby on it, bring part of the carrier up through her legs, tie it around her waist, then bring two long straps up over your shoulders, cross them in back or front depending on where the baby is and tie around your waist on the other side. Baby can be face in or out, front or back (4-ways) and (this is the best part) is so secure you can bend down to pick up something off the floor and s/he won't fall out. It's incredible comfortable to wear. I have a bad back and I could hike for hours with a 4-month old in this carrier.
Mei tai’s really took off around the early 2000’s probably at least partly due to the fact that the internet had made the sharing of information about different baby carrier options much easier. A cottage industry was soon born - many online shops were opened with each small company or hobbyist adding on their own distinct twist to the meh dai. These makers developed many of the features and fabrics we see on meh dai's today. There are now dozens of different brands of mei tai’s (some still available new and some no longer in production) with a wide variety of features such as head supports, sleeping hoods, pockets, long padded or wrap style straps, mesh panels for hot weather, and cinchable bodies for easier use with different aged babies. More about this in part 2!
Chinese Style Baby Carriers in Hong Kong https://gwulo.com/node/38670
Chinese Baby Carriers: A Hong Kong Tradition Now Gone Valery Garret Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society © 2001 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch
Chinese Style Baby Carriers in Hong Kong https://gwulo.com/node/38670
Information about the comfey carrier
https://www.facebook.com/groups/125491030798530/ (public group with some information about the ABA Meh Tai)
Beloved Burden: Baby-Wearing Around the World, 2015 by I.V van Hout (Editor)
Bonding Via Baby Carriers: The Art and Soul of the Miao and Dong People 2001 by Yu-Chiao Lin, Christi Lan Lin, and Brenda Liu Lan
threads from thebabywearer.com (you will need to join The Babywearer to read the posts)
Interesting discussion about the origin of the word 'mei tai' after one vendor tried to trademark it
Another wrap scrap skirt! This is made from the same pattern as the Vatanai skirt I made. The pattern I used was the Lovejill reversible wrap skirt (bought from Etsy). I really like this pattern although I think it is best made in a drapey non wrap fabric, like a lightweight cotton. It was a hassle to get the hem sitting nicely as one side or the other (mainly the lining) seemed to settle unevenly probably because cut on the bias the wrap is stretchy (had the same problem with the Vatanai version). I fixed it in the end but it was rather time consuming to get right. The skirt is made from an Ellevill Paisley Tango - bamboo/cotton blend. These same colours are used in the Jade Chilli ring sling (available in my shop here). This wrap is lightweight and has a lovely drape so perfect for a wrap skirt. The lining was upcycled from an op shop find (it was probably a small tablecloth originally). I loved the vintage vibe (and I love strawberries too).
How do you modify a Hipababy full buckle to make it a better fit for a small baby?
With a custom made carrier you the option is available to add a built in cinching system and some in stock carriers will have this available too. If your carrier doesn't have the built in adjustments you can modify your carrier by cinching the base with a ribbon and/or wearing the waist apron style. Wearing the carrier with the carrier a little higher on your body than shown below will also shorten the body panel further.
A baby size carrier (38cm x 38cm/ 15"x 15") is suitable from around 6 months or so but when cinched will work from around 6kg/00 clothes (or around 2-3 months). Infant size (35.5cm x 37cm/14" x 14.5") works from around 4 months uncinched or from newborn (4kg cinched). Don't use a larger sized soft structured carrier with a small baby as you will not have enough back support increasing the risk of slumping.
When using a full buckle with a baby under 4 months baby's back must be well supported and baby's chin must not fall onto their chest (which can obstruct breathing). Baby also must not be buried right down into the carrier. Ideally you would want the top of the carrier (where the straps are attached) no higher than earlobe level.
Below are some tips and tricks on how to use the built in adjustments, or if you have basic carrier without built in cinching some tips to help to get a better fit.
The carrier in these instructions is a baby sized carrier with adjustable base and sides. The demo doll is wearing 00 clothes so is around the size of a 3 month old.
How to modify with a ribbon
If you have a standard carrier with no built in adjustments you can use a ribbon or accessory strap to cinch the base of the carrier to a narrower setting. It is easier to tie the ribbon on with the waistband already clipped around you as the waistband will lay flatter that way. Tying with a ribbon will also shorten your carrier a little. If you need to shorten the height even further you can wear the waist apron style (more on that later).
Using a carrier with built in adjustments
If your carrier has built in adjustments cinch the carrier as shown in the photos and then put your carrier on as normal. Pull the height adjustment ties and tie in a loose knot. Fold the edges of the waist back on itself like an accordian. This will keep the fabric from slipping back and will cover the velcro strip. For an in between width, fold more loosely or just scrunch the waist instead. Remember make sure your baby is close enough to kiss! This will ensure you can moniter baby's airway and the higher you wear the waistband the shorter the panel will be be which also helps to get a good fit.
How to wear apron style
Wearing apron style will shorten your carrier even further. You will need to remove the buckles and re-thread them the opposite way for this method so your buckles don't end up upside down. Flip the waistband so the reverse side facing out and the panel is hanging down like an apron. You may also need a ribbon for this as the folds on the adjustable waist tend to spread a bit wider when worn apron style. Put the panel on as you normally would. When you are finished you will not see the waistband under baby's bum as you would when wearing in the regular way. If your carrier has a built in height adjustment you can cinch the panel before putting the carrier on and that will shorten the carrier the maximum amount.
Height of the panel uncinched.
Height of the panel cinched with the built in drawstring and headrest folded down.
Summer is here! Your baby still wants to be carried but how can you be more comfortable when the weather is hot? Here are some tips.
Do I need a summer carrier?
Not necessarily. If you have a carrier on the warmer side and are going to be spending a lot of time in air conditioning and/or don't often need to go out in the hottest part of the day you may find your current carrier just fine. When you do venture out you can make sure you and your baby are well hydrated and dressed lightly, and you can use accessories like cooling towels to make summer wearing more comfortable. If you are looking for a summer carrier though there are lots of options!
Single Layer Carriers
Ring slings are a great option for summer since there is only a single layer of fabric over you and your baby. Choose a summer friendly fabric like linen or silk. Cotton jaquard or wrap conversion ring slings often also work well, especially if you choose lighter, airier options or linen blends - just avoid very dense and heavy wraps. The tail of your ring sling can also be used as a sun shade!
For a two shoulder (or no shoulder!) option, try a narrow blanket podaegi (also know as a Nyia) as the weight bearing portion of that carrier is the straps so the body of the carrier (blanket) can be a single light layer of fabric.
Meh dai's (mei tai's) can also be fine for summer since they are generally lighter than a lot of buckle carriers and less bulky (although my buckle carriers are non bulky so a nice summer option too!) Meh Dai's and SSC will usually give good aiflow due to the open sides (if you have wrap straps just bunch rather than spread them). When choosing a meh dai or buckle carrier for summer look for lighter breathable fabrics like linen, a medium weight canvas or a lighter weight wrap conversion (linen blends are nice). Some mei tai's and buckle carriers also feature mesh panels. Flat hoods tend to be cooler than hoodie hoods as they allow more airflow along the sides.
Summer Worthy Materials
Certain fabrics have specific qualities that may make them more suitable for summer babywearing.
Linen is a great fabric for summer. It is a natural fibre so is breathable as well as airy, and has great moisture wicking properties which help to keep you cooler on hot days. Linen is great for ring slings and feels very supportive despite it's lighter weight (linen fibres are very strong). Linen also works well for meh dai's and buckle carriers.
Cotton can work well for hot weather, depending of the weight of the fabric. Medium weight cotton duck is a great summer weight for meh dai's/ mei tai's and half buckles.
Bamboo can also work well for summer. Bamboo can often be found in exercise and summer clothing as like linen it wicks moisture and is very breathable. It offers some protection against UV rays and is antibacterial.
Mesh panels help to keep your child's back cooler (they don't benefit the parent so it's still a good idea to look if the carrier is non bulky and breathable overall). Solarveil is my favourite mesh. It's very airy and open and is the coolest mesh I have ever tried. It is unfortunately no longer being manufactured so once my stock of it is gone that's it! Heavier mesh like kooknit and spacer mesh are still helpful though in maintaining airflow and are available in a wide range or colours.
Consider the weight of the fabric too. A thinner cotton or linen will be cooler than a heavy linen blend. However thinner fabrics can sometimes be less supportive so it is important to consider the age and weight of your baby.
A lighter weight baby carrier will allow some cooling through the fabric itself, so choose the lightest weight carrier that gives you the support that you need.
Babies have delicate skin so it's important to protect them from the sun.
For the best protection against UV rays remember that any fabric convering skin is a good start, but fabric alone in not necessarily going to have a high SPF (with the exception of purpose made UV resist clothing) so choose a baby safe sunscreen and a hat.
Stay in the shade as much as possible (but don't rely on shade alone as you and baby can still burn)
Avoid being in direct sun for extended periods of time, especially between 10am and 4pm when the UVB rays are at their strongest. If it isn't possible to avoid the hottest part of the day you can try using an umbrella, a light cotton blanket/fabric, or the tail of your ring ring sling to provide some extra shade.
Current sun protection guidelines for babies and children can be found here:
More Tips To Keep Yourself And Baby Cool
Use water! Bring a spray bottle or portable mister to cool yourself and baby down or drape a cloth dipped in water around your neck (or use a cooling towel). Cooling towels absorb and hold water. You can then wrap the towel around your neck or head for a cooling sensation. Any towel soaked in cold water will help to cool you down but the difference with cooling towels is that they are supposed to hold the coldness in longer which in turn gives longer relief from the heat.
To cool you down while babywearing use the towel across your chest, around your neck or between babies back and the panel of the carrier. One side of the towel needs to be cooler for the heat to radiate away so these towels don't work as well when placed between baby and caregiver. Additionally don't use these directly on the skin of very young babies as they can't regulate their own temperature as well as older children (use the towel to cool yourself instead which in turn will help to cool your baby)
Rinse your shirt in cold water to provide some temporarily relief.
Keep yourself and baby well hydrated. Breastfed babies under 6 months don't need extra water but may need to feed more often.
Clip on Cooling Fans - these can provide temporary relief and be clipped to the shoulder strap of your carrier. Look for the version with foam blades for added safely.
Consider keeping a layer of fabric between you and baby so you both feel less sweaty. Wear a top with a higher neckline or place a thin piece of material between you.
Remember that whatever carrier you are using acts as a layer, too so dress baby lightly.
Stay in the shade whenever possible and schedule activities for the cooler parts of the day.
Wear a wide brimmed hat and choose a hat for baby with a velcro strap so baby won't pull it off (handy for back carries!) Try an umbrella to make your own shade. You can also use the hood of your carrier or the tail of your ring sling for some extra shade.
If you are wearing a buckle carrier occasionally loosen the shoulder straps a little and move your baby away from your body slightly to let some air flow between you. After you have cooled off tighten the straps up again.
If you have an older baby or toddler try a hip or back carry to allow for more air flow.
Create your own breeze. Fan yourself with your ring sling tail!
Walking can provide some airflow but if you are sitting still for a while (and it's convenient) take baby out of the carrier for a break to cool off.
A narrow blanket podaegi (also known as a nyia) is so versatile. Let me count the ways...
I love to sew. I have five curious and active kids who keep me busy!